Gerald's Game (2017)
Dir.: Mike Flanagan
The promotional material for Gerald's Game makes it seem like it's following in the footsteps of similar sex-themed films that have come up in recent months, at least until one looks at the director involved and the source material. 2017 has turned out to be the year of Stephen King films, but the efforts have been hit or miss: It and The Dark Tower perpendicularly occupy spots on my Best Films and Worst Films of the year list, for example. Luckily, Mike Flanagan continues his horror/thriller winning streak with this film, as this is thankfully not the typical Fifty Shades of Grey style film that some viewers may crave. This film defies expectations at every turn. I never did read the book that this film is based on, but I can say that this film adaptation is at times intense, thoughtful, disgusting, and harrowing...all adjectives that are definitely good signs when describing a Mike Flanagan film.
The events of the film play out, at first, like an inverse-Misery. A husband and wife retreat to an isolated cabin to try and reinvigorate their long-shelved sex life, and upon the wife being handcuffed to the bed, the husband has a heart attack and keels over. Naturally, the rest of the film revolves around the still-breathing wife handcuffed to a bed and forced to figure out how to survive. Though the main genre of film could be described as a contained thriller, there are some genre detours that the film takes which I will not spoil, but for most of the run-time, this film is a solid, engrossing ride. My main flaw with the different diversions that the film takes is that towards the last twenty minutes, there is a reveal that does not feel earned and actually cheapens some of the potential symbolism of the narrative. I feel as if the last few minutes could have been cut from the film and made better, as a certain sense of ambiguity is lost amidst the final moments, and the aftertaste is soured just a bit. Other than this complaint I had a blast watching the story unfold and I remained invested throughout.
Carla Gugino's performance here is incredibly wide ranged, as she must navigate all the different stages of fear and anxiety presented when dealing with impending death. As the film revolves completely around her, Gugino is able to really showcase her acting here. Though I do not believe she will be nominated just because this is a performance from a Netflix original movie, and the Academy has shown disdain for streaming films, her performance is Oscar-worthy here. Bruce Greenwood also puts in a good run as the sexually abusive husband, but his time on screen, without spoiling the plot, serves a very unconventional purpose. As far as the acting goes, it was pretty superb across the board.
Mike Flanagan continues to show that he has a keen eye for creep factor without succumbing to jump-scare laziness. There are several scenes in the film that serve as kind of grotesque, more realistic body-horror, like a restrained, anesthetized Cronenberg. One particular scene towards the end was one of the most hard-to-watch sequences of the year for this reason. While I don't think his use of color and cinematography is as creative and atmospheric as his previous film Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald's Game manages to still be creative with visuals and sound while taking place almost entirely in a single room throughout its runtime.
The film is thankfully another win for Stephen King film adaptations, thanks to its incredible performances and solid direction. Whereas the script falls apart in the last twenty minutes and the ending is lackluster, it's not bad enough to ruin the whole experience. Gugino and Flanagan both bring their A-game in adapting the source material with care, as they show a servicable grasp of the themes presented. It's ultimately a contained thriller, but it's also a film about coming to terms with your past and with your relationships both familial and romantic, and for that, I thank Flanagan for continuing to be a contemporary horror director with integrity. Definitely check it out on Netflix when you can.